About This Artwork

Eldzier Cortor
American, 1916–2015

The Room No. VI, 1948

Oil and gesso on Masonite
107.3 x 80 cm (42 1/4 x 31 1/2 in.)
Signed lower right: E. Cortor
Inscribed on verso: "The Room No. VI" / Eldzier Cortor / July, 1948 / oil on gesso / size 31" x 42" / Chicago, IL

Through prior acquisition of Friends of American Art and Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison; through prior gift of the George F. Harding Collection, 2007.329

© Eldzier Cortor.

Eldzier Cortor was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1916 and moved with his family to the South Side of Chicago a year later. His coursework at the School of the Art Institute exposed him not only to the Art Institute’s iconic Western paintings but also to the Field Museum’s extraordinary collection of African art. When he decided to become a painter, he was drawn to abstraction but decided that nonobjective painting was incompatible with his desire to represent the African American experience and convey social messages with his art. The Room No. VI is one of the finest examples of Cortor’s mature work, intended to expose the impoverished living conditions experienced by many African Americans on the South Side. Circumstances for many residents were challenging, as racism, segregation, and the increasing pace of migration of rural blacks from the South placed significant pressures on the limited housing stock. Entire families resided together, often in what were called “kitchenettes”—inadequate one-room spaces with limited access to kitchens or bathrooms. Despite his pressing social message, however, Cortor emphasized formal elements of pattern and texture, particularly the shapes and brilliant colors of the bed linens, floorboards, and wallpaper, whose dynamic, decorative appearance helps alleviate the bleakness of the scene. Cortor achieved a fundamental rethinking of the idiom of social realism that conveys the hardships of African American life in Chicago, even as he endowed the subject with a profound dignity and grace.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Art Institute, "Fifty-Third Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity," February 10-March 20, 1949, cat. 58.

University of Illinois, Champaign, Architecture Building, "Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting," march 4-April 15, 1951, cat. 25, pl. 13.

Possibly Ford Foundation, c. 1958.

Art Institute of Chicago, "They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910-1950," March 3-June 3, 2013, cat. 76.

Publication History

Ralph Pearson, "The Modern Renaissance in American Art: Presenting the Work and Philosophy of 54 Distinguished Artists," College Art Journal 14, 1 (Autumn 1954) p. 171.

"Thre Masters: Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith, Archibald Motley Jr.," exh. cat. (Kenkeleba Gallery, New York, 1998) p. 22 (ill.).

Annual Report (Art Institute of Chicago, 2007-2008), p. 19, ill. p. 7.

Sarah E. Kelly, "Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago," Museum Studies 35, 2 (Art Institute of Chicago, 2009) pp. 18-19 (ill.).

Judith A. Barter et al., "American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, From World War I to 1955," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 169.

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 132.

Ownership History

The artist; Arthur Wright Sr., Bronx, New York; given to his son, Arthur Wright Jr., Riverdale, New York c. 1980; [Franklin Riehlman Fine Art, New York]; sold to Merrill C. Berman, Scarsdale, New York, c. 2005; [Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 2007] sold to The Art Institute, 2007.

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